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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Spiritual growth and fruitfulness
Text:Philippians 1:9-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2014-07-03
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Old Book of Praise:

Ps. 111: 1, 2

Ps. 119: 4 – 6

Ps. 107: 1, 16, 17

Ps. 25: 2, 4, 5

Ps. 92: 6, 7

 

Scripture reading:       Phil. 1: 1 – 30 

Text:                         Phil. 1: 9 – 11

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Growing in Fruitfulness                                        

Ps. 111: 1, 2

Ps. 119: 4 – 6

Ps. 107: 1, 16, 17

Ps. 25: 2, 4, 5

Ps. 92: 6, 7

 

Scripture reading:       Phil. 1: 1 – 30 

Text:                         Phil. 1: 9 – 11

 

Beloved congregation, saints in Christ Jesus,

 

When a small child learns to eat, one will put a bib on him and then try to get something into his mouth.   When you do manage to get something into his mouth, the baby may spit it out again.   In the end it may turn out that there is more food on his face and on his bib than in his tummy.  

Yet the mother will be satisfied that at least her little one has eaten for the first time.  

 

However, when little Johnny grows up and becomes a young man, and at the age of 21 still has to be spoon-fed by his mother, and still needs to wear a bib on which he spills half of his food, then his mother will no longer be satisfied.  

There will be sorrow in her heart, because: there is something wrong with her child.  

 

The same applies to our spiritual growth.   When someone is new to the faith he still needs to be spoon-fed.    He needs careful instruction, and sometimes won’t be able to grasp it yet.    At first one will be satisfied when at least he grasps some of the instruction and starts to grow in the understanding of God’s Word.

But when someone has grown up in the church and has received many years of catechism instruction and preaching and yet remains a baby in the faith – who needs to be spoon-fed, and then spits out the instruction on his bib – then there is something wrong.  

 

It is not God’s will that we remain babes in the faith.   It is His will that we grow to spiritual maturity.

Scripture often speaks about the fact that we need to grow and increase in faith.  The apostle Peter says for example:  

 

“…as newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby…” – 1 Peter 2: 2.

 

It is not God’s will that we remain newborn babies in the faith.  

We need the instruction of God’s Word in order that we may grow to the full measure of a mature man in Christ, that we shall no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, but may grow up in all things to maturity in Christ – Ephesians chapter 4.

 

It is not God’s will that we be tossed to and fro, or be carried away by every new doctrine, or new idea in the church, and by every dynamic speaker that may cross our path.  

We need to grow to spiritual maturity in order that we may stand firm, well rooted in the truth of God’s Word.

 

Or think of that passage where the apostle Paul says to the Hebrews:

 

“…though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.   For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a baby.    But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” – Hebrews 5: 12 – 14

 

He says: it is a shame!   They have been instructed for so long already, and yet they still need to be fed with milk.   By this time they ought to have been teachers themselves – fathers and mothers teaching their children, older women teaching the younger women, elders teaching the flock – but, instead, they themselves still need to be spoon-fed.   In fact, he says they are not yet able to handle solid food, they have remained babies who need to be fed with milk only. 

But solid food is for grownups, for those who have exercised themselves in discerning good from evil.  

 

There are many more such passages, but just by quoting these few examples you already start to get the picture.   When we compare all of Scripture it becomes clear that the characteristics of a mature man in Christ are: knowledge, discernment, wisdom, spiritual understanding, steadfastness.  

It is also clear that the means by which the Holy Spirit causes this spiritual growth is the Word of God.   The Word contains both milk and solid food – milk for the babies, and solid food for those who grow to maturity.

 

The apostle Paul often calls the pure doctrine of God’s Word “sound doctrine”.   The Greek words for “sound doctrine”, we may also translate: healthy doctrine.   The pure doctrine of God’s Word is healthy food whereby we grow spiritually.

Now, when little Johnny starts to eat, it might be that he does not like pumpkin and carrots and spinach, but that he very much like custard and jelly.   He will properly open his mouth for the jelly, but not for the pumpkin.    However, his mother knows that he cannot stay healthy if he only eats jelly and custard!   And so, for the child’s own sake, his mother will persist with the veggies.   In order to get him to eat it, she may start all kinds of tricks.   She may entertain him by playing aeroplane-aeroplane.   Open your mouth – here comes the aeroplane. 

 

But how sad is it when church members who grew up in the church still do not know that they need the healthy doctrine of God’s Word.   How sad is it when church members pull a face for sound doctrine, yes, pull a face for the healthy instruction of God’s Word, and demand that they be given jelly and custard only.  

How sad when churches start to act like little Johnny!   Then the minister has to play aeroplane-aeroplane with lots of storytelling and entertainment, but as soon as the members taste the beetroot or the carrots or the meat of God’s Word, they spit it out on their bib.

 

How sad when churches take little Johnny as their role model!

 

Brothers and sisters, the Lord does not want us to be a little-Johnny-church.   He does not want us to remain babes in the faith.  It is His will that we grow up to full maturity in Christ.   It is His will for us as a church, and also for each one of us as members of Christ’s body.  

 

And thus I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme:

Praying for spiritual growth and fruitfulness

 

We will note…

  1. The importance of spiritual growth
  2. A description of spiritual growth
  3. The aim of spiritual growth

In the first place we note…

The importance of spiritual growth

 

The apostle said in verse 6 that he is confident that God who has begun a good work in the Philippians will also complete the good work which He has begun in them.

The good work which the Lord has begun in them started with the apostle Paul’s second mission journey – Acts chapter 16.  About six years later he visited them again on his third mission journey – Acts 20.   He now writes this epistle some years after his third mission journey, while imprisoned in Rome.   The church in Philippi is still young in faith, but they are not that young anymore.  

They were no longer a mission church.   They were already what we will call “an instituted church” with their own elders and deacons – verse 1.  

And over the years they have grown and were bearing much fruit.  

 

Yet, the good work which the Lord has begun in them is not yet complete.   The apostle prays that they may continue to grow, yes, that they may abound more and more in love, knowledge and discernment, that they may live pure and blameless lives and may be filled with the fruits of righteousness.   

 

This description, of what he prays for the saints, starts in verse 9:

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment…”

The apostle prays for this because it is God’s will.  

It is not the apostle’s own hobby to drive the churches to perfection.  

God wants this for his church, therefore the apostle prays for it.

The apostle’s prayer is in accordance with God’s revealed will in Scripture.

 

By telling the church what he is asking God in his prayers, he also teaches them what they should be asking for themselves.   These verses, written under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are at the same time divine revelation, instructing us in the will of God.  

 

God wanted the church in Philippi to abound still more and more in love and knowledge and discernment.  

We find a similar passage in Colossians 1 where the apostle says that he does not cease to pray:

“…that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…” – Col. 1: 9, 10

Also in that text he prays for an increase in the knowledge of God’s will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, in fruitfulness and in the knowledge of God.  

The apostle is not saying that these churches do not have love, or knowledge or discernment, but he prays that they may abound in it more and more.

How much, then, must they grow?   What is the measure of full maturity?  

The apostle says in many passages that it is his aim and the will of God that we grow to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.  

We already quoted from Ephesians 4, but to mention just one other example, the apostle says that he, and the other ministers of the Word, preaches Christ…

“…warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.   To this end I labour…” – Col. 1: 28, 29

He says it is the very aim, the very purpose, for which he labours – to present every man perfect in Christ.

Note that word “perfect”.   The Greek word may also be translated: complete, full-grown, fully mature.   And so other Bible translations have indeed translated it: to present every man mature in Christ.

 

It is the will of God, and therefore it was the aim of the apostle’s labour, to present every man full-grown in Christ.

 

Brothers and sisters, when we see that it was the very purpose of the apostle’s labour – not only to lead people to Christ, but to lead them to full maturity in Christ – and that he made this his main petition for the church, then we start to realise that spiritual growth and maturity must be important then.

In fact: very important!

 

The aim of the gospel is not just to get people into heaven, but to teach and instruct us in righteousness in order that we may grow in love and knowledge and discernment, that we may live blameless and fruitful lives to the glory of God.  

 

Let us then consider carefully how the apostle describes this spiritual growth.   We note that in the second place…

His description of spiritual growth

 

“…this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment…”

 

These Philippians already abounded in love.   

There is enough evidence of their abounding love when we note for example their abundant support for the apostle and for the others saints.   We read about it in this epistle, but also in other epistles where the apostle mentions the abundant contributions of this poor and afflicted church.   They even robbed themselves in order to help others.

Yes, they had an abundance of love.

 

And yet, the apostle prays to God that their love may abound more and more.  

This epistle provides us with several reasons.  

We read that a complete unity among the church members was lacking.   Therefore he exhorts for example Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord, and he exhorts the congregation that they have to be of one accord and of one mind, and not to do anything through selfish ambition.  
Although they abounded in love, there was still room for improvement.  

 

Now, our translation says that their love must abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment.    We may also translate the Greek: their love must abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment.   Their love must be accompanied by an increase of knowledge and discernment.

 

Love is not its own law.   We may have much zeal for the Lord, but our love and zeal for the Lord needs to be regulated by the knowledge of His will; even by carefully discerning His will.

 

Scripture says:

 

            “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge…” – Prov. 19: 2 (NIV)

 

When little Johnny becomes 3 years old he may love very much to help his father in the garden.   But because he still lacks knowledge and discernment, he may start pulling out the seedlings instead of the weeds.    With all his good intentions and zeal he may yet cause a lot of damage in the veggie garden.

 

Our love for God and the neighbour needs to abound more and more in knowledge and all discernment.   Our love needs to be regulated and guided by the instruction of God’s Word, or else our religious zeal may cause more damage than good.

 

The apostle told the Colossians exactly the same, saying that he prays for them that they may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.   And so, when we compare the two parallel passages, it becomes clear that the “knowledge” which they need, is the knowledge of God’s will; the knowledge which is necessary to discern God’s will in all things.

 

It is the knowledge of how we are to “walk worthy of the Lord”; how we are to live in such a way that our life is fully pleasing to Him.   It is the knowledge of God’s Word, which is useful for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.   Yes, it is the knowledge that equips us for every good work – 2 Tim. 3: 16, 17.

 

And then he adds to knowledge also discernment.   In Scripture knowledge and discernment always go hand in hand.   It is by the careful instruction of Scripture, yes, by the knowledge of Scripture, that we are enabled to discern between good and evil, and to discern between true and false.

Then everything does not remain grey to us.   The more we grow in discernment the more we are able to discern all things as to their true nature, and to tell: this is wrong, and this is right.   This is true, and this is false.

 

Again, little Johnny might not be able to discern between a bottle with red poison, and a bottle with red cool drink.   It may look all the same to him.

Such a lack of knowledge and discernment may cause his death when he finds a bottle of poison.   He may easily confuse it with cool drink.

But with maturity comes discernment.  

 

When little Johnny plays in the mud, he may eat hands full of mud, and may even enjoy doing so, but when his mother tries to feed him healthy food, he may pull a face.

He has no discernment to distinguish between healthy food and mud.

 

But how sad it is when grownups in the church do the same – when they get excited about a new book on the market which contains nothing but mud, when they become excited about junk food and even poisonous food, but pull a face for sound doctrine, and spit it out on their bib!

 

When church members are without discernment, they are easily as the apostle says: “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4: 14). 

 

Yes, what happens when a church demands preaching which contains only jelly and custard, and enjoys a lot of story-telling from the pulpit?    What happens when churches start to pull a face for healthy doctrine?  

Then the knowledge and discernment, which is so essential to discern between true and false, starts to disappear.   Then everything becomes grey and uncertain.   Then churches are carried about by every wind of doctrine and every new idea.   

Then it happens that Reformed churches no longer posses the knowledge and discernment to know that, for example, women in office is against God’s Word, and that homosexualism is sin; unable to discern between true and false church, and unable to discern even the basics of right and wrong from the law of God.  

 

Yes, when churches are no longer fed with the solid food of sound doctrine, but receive jelly and custard on demand, and spit out sound doctrine on their bib, and prefer storytelling – well, then it is no surprise when they are carried about with every new idea and follow whoever may take the lead.

When spiritual knowledge and discernment is lacking, then a church may boast of all its activities and its many projects, but all its activism will cause only a mess; like little Johnny in the veggie garden.   

 

The church in Philippi was endangered by false doctrine.   The apostle warns them in chapter 3 against false teachers – a danger which the church always faces.    That is one of the reasons why he exhorts them in this epistle to stand firm.   In order to stand firm they needed to increase, to abound more and more, in knowledge and all discernment.

 

Yes, how important is it to grow in spiritual discernment!   How important is it to grow to a mature man in Christ and not to remain a spiritual baby without discernment!

 

But, dear congregation, the reason why the apostle prays for their spiritual maturity was not only to guard off false teaching and to avoid evil.   The purpose of spiritual growth is first of all positive.  The reason why they needed to increase in love and knowledge and discernment was…

 

“…that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

 

With these words he spells out the purpose, or aim, of spiritual growth.  

We note that in the third place…

The aim of spiritual growth

 

The aim is a holy and fruitful life through Jesus Christ to the glory of God.

 

The apostle describes this aim in some detail.

First he says:

            “…that you may approve the things that are excellent…”

 

We may also translate:

            “…that you may discern what is excellent…”

 

And the reason why we have to discern what is excellent, and what not, is…

 

            “…that you may be sincere and without offence…”

 

Sincere and without offence – we may also translate the Greek:

 

            “…that you may be pure and blameless…”

 

It is the same aim as stated in Ephesians 1 where he says that God elected us in Christ that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.

 

He adds:

            “…till the day of Christ…”

 

It is the second time that he mentions the coming of Christ; first in verse 6, and now again in verse 10.

In order to live pure and blameless lives we need to keep Judgement day before our eyes.   We need to live in the expectation of Christ’s coming and press forward towards that day.   Each of us will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad – 2 Cor. 5: 10.

In order to live pure and blameless lives we need to keep the day of Christ’s coming in mind.

That is why he mentions the coming of Christ in this context.

 

Now, when he speaks of a pure and blameless life, he describes our life first in the negative.

Pure, in this context, means: undefiled; purified from sin.  And blameless also means: free from blame or without offence.

But then the apostle also describes the positive side.   We must not only shun evil, or be pure and blameless, but also positively be filled with righteousness.

 

In the parallel passage in Colossians 1, where he prays the same prayer for the saints, he says:

“…that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work…”

 

In short: the reason why he prays for their increase in love, knowledge and discernment, is that they may live pure and blameless lives filled with the fruits of righteousness, that their good works may abound more and more to the glory of God.

 

Yes, the glory of God is the ultimate aim.  

But the way in which God is glorified by us, is when we, through faith in Christ, live pure, blameless, fruitful lives.

 

As he says, this is a new life through Jesus Christ.

Christ said:

 

“I am the vine, you are the branches.   He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15: 5)

 

And therefore the apostle says here in our text that it is “by Jesus Christ” that we are filled with the fruits of righteousness.   Being grafted into Christ by a true faith we do bear fruit, and increase in fruitfulness, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Dear congregation, the apostle Paul makes the content of his prayer known, not only that we may know what he asked for the saints, but that we may also ask the same.

 

Has this prayer also become your prayer?

 

Has it become the ultimate purpose of your life to glorify God through a pure and blameless life filled with the fruits of righteousness?

 

Little Johnny needs to grow to a mature man, and so do we.  

Brothers and sisters, let us not make little Johnny our role model, but seek to grow together to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Let us not say: “Jesus loves me, and that is all I need to know!”  

Let us not demand sermons which contain only jelly and custard, but eagerly study God’s Word to grow thereby, yes, to grow toward the full stature of Christ. 

 

Let us pray this prayer with the apostle for all the saints, and also for ourselves, that we may abound more and more in love, in knowledge, in all discernment, in order that we may know and discern how to live pure lives which is blameless in God’s sight, and may bear fruit – more abundantly – to the glory of God our Saviour.

 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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